A parallel rural distribution network, reforms aimed at checking theft, recasting discoms scripted the state’s power glory

In early 2000, villagers in most parts of Gujarat couldn’t even think of watching television at night. The cities weren’t better off either. Planned weekly blackouts, mostly day-long ones, kept many cricket fans from watching Sachin Tendulkar hitting boundaries.

In 2014, Gujarat has achieved round-the-clock three-phase power supply to its 18,000 villages and 9,700 hamlets.

This comes in stark contrast to other peer States, mainly Delhi, where power outages have become a way of life. Recently, Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal blamed the 15-year rule of the earlier State Government for the power woes in Delhi.

How did Gujarat do it? For experts, the power sector reforms undertaken by the State Government during 2003-05 catapulted Gujarat into a power surplus state. The Jyoti Gram Yojana (JGY, which is a feeder bifurcation scheme), controlling theft and losses and unbundling of distribution companies into multiple entities became the pillars of the State’s success.

Power sector reforms

The then Narendra Modi-Government in the State gave top priority to the resolution of power woes and dealt with issues such as power theft in agriculture with strict enforcement. The JGY was launched in September 2003 with an aim to provide three-phase round-the-clock quality power to domestic and commercial users of villages and their hamlets.

The scheme provides for a separate 11kv electric feeder for domestic and commercial use.

It separates agricultural consumers for load management and regulates agricultural consumption. “We wanted our power utilities to strengthen first. Secondly, power to all was the vision of our Government. JGY ensured power to all villages for domestic and commercial consumption, thus it became the seed of Gujarat’s power model,” said Saurabh Patel, Energy Minister.

This involved setting up of a parallel rural distribution network of 78,454 km of new lines, 2,257 JGY feeders, 18,724 new transformer centres and 4,530 special design transformers.

“It was a Herculean task to create a parallel distribution network to the existing one with a separate phase and cover the entire State within two years. Nobody except the chief minister was convinced that it could happen,” said Guruprasad Mohapatra, who was a key official at the erstwhile Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) at the time of rolling out JGY.

“In mid-1990s, several committees had advocated for a system of feeder bifurcation for regular power supply at the village level. To achieve this, it was required to reform the system. It was Modi who took it up seriously and made it a reality,” said YK Alagh, former power minister and a noted economist. The JGY was joined with several reforms by the Government to curb the transmission and distribution losses and theft through technical and legal measures, boosting investor confidence.

“The Government recognised that people want to pay for quality power. They made enforcement strict and after 10 years, it converted ‘D’ category loss-making discoms of the state,” said Ratul Puri, chairman, Hindustan Powerprojects.

The erstwhile GEB and now Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd (GUVNL) had posted a loss of ₹2,246 crore in 2000-01, on a revenue of ₹6,280 crore. In 2012-13, GUVNL posted a profit of ₹14 crore on a total revenue of ₹29,340 crore.

Even after eight consecutive profit-making years, GUVNL continues to feel the burden of a loss of ₹737 crore of erstwhile GEB.

(This article was published on June 11, 2014)
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